14 January 2010.
Australian cricket has had another rewarding season. Certainly, the campaign has surpassed modest expectations. Everyone began with the sort of glum expression detected in lemon-tasters. Even marketeers with shiny faces were hard-pressed to muster any enthusiasm. Little was expected from visiting teams placed sixth and seventh in the rankings. Poor wretches, they only had about five support staff each. Who was going to tie their bootlaces? Worse, both appeared to be led by the wrong fellow (a fate not unique to sport). One chap seemed not to think much of the genre or anything at all except sunglasses, and the other smiled and sighed more than is considered appropriate. Firepower looked like a better investment than a fifth-day ticket.
Instead, the campaigns have been compelling. Chris Gayle, Mohammad Yousuf and their teams have played fine cricket and give considerable satisfaction. The West Indies brought along some fine young cricketers, thereby giving the game in the region and at large an enormous fillip. Nothing is more calculated to provoke cheer than the sight of a teenage opener smacking the ball around on his way to reaching 100 in his first match – at the Gabba as well. Hardly anything is more likely to delight dulled cricketing wits than the emergence of a fast bowler able to deliver thunderbolts. Adrian Barath and Kemar Roach served these purposes. Roach reminded all and sundry that cricket is supposed to be raw and risky. It had been tranquillised. An emaciated life is not life at all. It’s high time fusspots recognised the fact.
Several West Indians stayed behind to play in the Big Bash, a title that captures the essence of the activity. It was not so long ago that West Indian cricketers were well nigh unemployable. Now they are hot property. Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard are smiting and smiling in about equal proportions. Accordingly, everyone except the diehards are looking forward to the one-day series. At full strength, the West Indies are competitive in any version of the game. Meanwhile, the popularity of these visitors ought to dispel notions that Australia is inherently hostile. In fact it is dry, noisy, regulated, insecure, democratic and friendly, apart from the sort of malcontents featured in almost every country. It’s not that difficult to capture local hearts. Indeed, both visiting teams managed it.
Pakistan ought to have fared better than the West Indies but fell over in the straight, a fate that once befell the Queen’s horse in the Grand National. Gayle’s strong point was Yousuf’s frailty. Where the West Indian sent for the fire engines and grabbed a bucket, Yousuf fiddled and so the house burnt down. Until then, though, captain and team had shown many outstanding qualities, and many will wish them well in Hobart. Outsiders are surprised by the number of locals dismayed by Pakistan’s defeat at the SCG. A lot of people recognised that Pakistan had beaten themselves, and had been looking forward to a showdown in Tasmania.
Despite their calamity in Sydney, these visitors have been liked and respected. They, too, have brought two youngsters capable of brightening up the game. Mohammad Aamer’s virtuoso performance in Melbourne was the highlight of the summer, while Umar Akmal has batted with a playfulness only slightly diminished by impetuosity. Hereafter, every visit by these novices will be eagerly awaited. Likewise Danish Kaneria’s persistence and Umar Gul’s beefy accuracy command respect. That Pakistan, a country enduring all manner of strife, can produce players and a team of this calibre confirms the endurance of the human spirit.
As far as the Australians are concerned, the summer has mostly gone according to plan. Ricky Ponting and company have maintained the energy and sense of mission that sustained them throughout their long overseas campaign. Whether any light has been shed on the quality of the side is debatable. At present, its strength lies in the opening pair and the depth of the batting. Weaknesses detected elsewhere remain unresolved, while (say it softly) not even an Australian cricket captain can turn back the clock. Still, Australia have won four of their five matches, and it’ll take a mighty effort from Pakistan to stop them securing another victory.